Information you collect from interviews, documents, and your investigative logs are the foundation of your work product. As a private investigator you are not immune to data losses that may occur accidentally or as the result of a criminal act. Further, the information you collect is private and belongs to your client. As a private investigator you must protect your digital and hard-copy information.
Protecting Hard-Copy Data
You collect documents, and other forms of paper information for use in your cases. In many cases, these documents are evidence for the case. Here are a few tips to protect these hard-copy, paper documents:
* Make working copies - Using your scanner or copier, make copies of the original documents. Once complete, seal the documents in sealed envelopes, (writing identifying information on the envelope before placing the documents inside), then store them safely and securely. You can use the copies for your investigative file as you work the case. You can make notes, highlight information, etc. on your working copies making it easier to find information you need.
* Store in secure manner - Originals should be stored in a lockable, fire-proof filing cabinet or safe. Fire-proof, lockable storage is not inexpensive, but when you consider the protection afforded the investment is well worth it. Also, the cabinet or safe should be stored in a secured room for extra protection. Not only do these cabinets protect the documents, they also help maintain your chain-of-custody when you keep a log to show when the room and cabinet was accessed and by whom.
Protecting Digital Data
Chances are you are using a lot of digital data in the form of electronic documents, photo's, video's, etc. Loss of this data can cripple your investigative efforts. Protecting your digital data is more important than ever. Consider these tips:
* Secure Online Storage - Several years ago we would not have considered storing digital information online. Secure, online data storage, or "in the cloud", has become a preferred method for private investigators today. Several companies offer secure cloud storage solutions. With criminals changing their tactics on a daily basis, using a secure online data storage service ensures there is someone protecting your data around the clock. Most importantly, your data is maintained in the event you have a hardware failure. Ever turn your computer on and it never boots up?
* Working Copies - Depending on your investigation you will want to make working copies. This is easily done in hard-copy or by creating a copy for your use while working the case. (Remember, every time you access a document it is time/date stamped.) For emails and documents make a pdf copy that you work from, make notes, etc.
* Two-step authentication processes - Of course if your password is compromised or an employee clicks on one of those phishing emails, all of your digital information could be at risk. Two-step authentication protects your email, and data (if you select the right service) from phishing scams, or if your password is compromised. You can purchase security keys that protect your accounts from phishing scams.
As a private investigator you are responsible for securing hard-copy and digital evidence, protecting it from tampering or inadvertent loss. This has become so important that we train our investigators in data protection methods to include secured storage, enforcing strong passwords, and using two-step authentication with security keys.
Invest some time, and yes, money, to protect your documents and digital data.
Pro PI staff
Experienced professionals and trainers.